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[-63-]

CHAPTER XXV.

THE ENCHANTRESS.

"OH! how can I prove my innocence now?" exclaimed Richard, wringing his bands, and walking hastily up and down the cell "how shall I convince the world that a fearful combination of circumstances has so entangled me in this net, that never was man so wronged before? how can I communicate my dread position to Monroe? how ever again look society in the face? how live after this exposure - this disgrace?"
    "Master Richard, Master Richard," cried the poor old butler, "don't take on so - don't now! Your innocence must conspire on the day of trial, and the jury will do you justice. Now, don't take on so, Master Richard - pray don't!"
    As the faithful domestic uttered these words, the tears chased each other so rapidly down his cheeks that he seemed to need consolation quite as much as his master.
    "Oh! that villain Chichester - the wretch - the cheat! " continued Richard; " and no doubt his vulgar companion Talbot is as bad. And the baronet - perhaps be also —"
    Markham stopped short, and seated himself upon the bench. He suddenly became very faint, and turned ashy pale. Whittingham hastened to loosen his shirt-collar, and the policeman present humanely procured a glass of water.
    In a few minutes be recovered: and he then endeavoured to contemplate with calmness the full extent of the perils which, environed him. His opinion of Chichester and Talbot was already formed but the baronet - could he have been a party to their scheme of villany? After a moment's reflection, he answered the question to himself in an affirmative.
    He had, then, fallen into a nest of adventurers and swindlers. But Diana - oh! no, she could not have been cognizant of the treacherous designs practised  against him: she was doubtless made use of as an instrument, to further the plans of the conspirators.
    Such were his convictions. Should he then give her due warning in time, and afford her an opportunity of abandoning, ere it might be too late, an individual who would doubtless involve her, in the long run, in infamy and peril?
    To pen a hasty note to Mrs. Arlington was now a duty which he conceived entailed upon him, and which he immediately performed. He then wrote a letter to Mr. Monroe, detailing the particulars of his unfortunate position, and beseeching him not to be prejudiced against him by the report which be might read in the newspapers the following day.
    "Whittingham, my old friend," said Markham, when he had disposed of these matters; "we must now separate for the present. This letter for Mr. Monroe you will forward by post: the other, to Mrs. Arlington, you will take yourself to Bond Street, and de1iver into her own hand." Then, addressing himself to Mac Chizzle, he observed, "I thank you, sir, for your attendance here to-day.  Whittingham will give you the address of my guardian, Mr. Monroe; and that gentleman will consult with you upon the proper course to be pursued. He will also answer any pecuniary demands you may have occasion to make upon him."
    Richard had preserved an unnatural degree of calmness as he uttered these words; and Whittingham was himself astonished at the coolness with which his young master delivered his instructions. The old butler wept bitterly when he took leave of "Master Richard;" and it cost the young man himself no inconsiderable effort to restrain his own tears.
    "What is raly your inferential opinion in this matter?" demanded the butler of the lawyer, as they issued from the door of the police-office together.
    "Why, that it was a capital scheme to raise the wind, and a very great pity that it did not succeed to a far greater extent," cried the professional adviser.
    "Well, if you put that opinion down in your bill and charge six-and-eight-pence for it," said Whittingham, with a very serious countenance, "I shall certainly dispute the item, and computate it, when I audit the accounts."
    "I am really at a loss to comprehend you," said the lawyer. " Of course there are no secrets between you and me: indeed, you had much better tell me the whole truth —"
    "Truth!" ejaculated Whittingham: "of course I shall tell you the truth."
    "Allow me to ask a question or two, then," re-[-64-]sumed the lawyer. " I suppose that you were in the plant, and divided the swag?"
    Mr. Whittingham stared at the professional man with the most unfeigned astonishment, which, indeed, was so great that it checked all reply.
    "Well," proceeded the shrewd Mr. Mac Chizzle, "it wasn't a bad dodge either. And I suppose that this Monroe is a party to the whole concern?"
    "Is it possible, Mr. Mac Chizzle," exclaimed the butler, "that —"
    "But the business is awkward - very awkward," added the solicitor, shaking his head. "It was however fortunate that nothing transpired to implicate you also. When one pal is at large, he can do much for another who is in lavender. It would have been worse if you had been lumbered too - far worse.
    "Plant - pal - lumbered - lavender!" repeated Whittingham. with considerable emphasis on each word as he slowly uttered it. "I suppose you rely think my master is guilty of the crime computed to him?"
    "Of course I do," replied Mac Cbizzle: " I can see as far into a brick wall as any one."
    "Well, it's of no use argufying the pint," said the butler, after a moment's pause. " Here is Mr. Monroe's address: perhaps when you have seen him, you will arrive at new inclusions."
    Mr. Whittingham then took leave of the solicitor, and proceeded to Bond Street.
    Within a few yards of the house in which Mrs. Arlington resided, the butler ran against an individual who, with his hat perched jauntily on his right ear, was lounging along.
   
" Holloa, you fellow!" ejaculated Mr. Thomas Sugget - for it was he - what do you mean by coming bolt agin a gen'leman in that kind of way?"
   
"Oh! my dear sir," cried Whittingham, "is that you? I am raly perforated with delight to see you."
    Mr. Suggett gave a good long stare at Mr. Whittingham, and then exclaimed, "Oh! it is you - is it? well, I must say that your legs are in a very unfinished condition."
    "How, sir, - how ?" demanded the irritated butler.
    "Why, they want a pair of fetters, to be sure," said Suggett; and breaking into a horse-laugh, he passed rapidly on.
    Whittingham felt humiliated; and the knock that he gave at the door of Diana's lodgings was sneaking and subdued. In a few minutes, however, he was ushered into a back room on the first floor, where Mrs. Arlington received him.
    "Here is a letter, ma'am, which I was to deliver only into your own identical hand."
    "Is it - is it from your master?" demanded the I Enchantress.
    "It is, ma'am."
    "Where is Mr. Markham ?" asked Diana, receiving the letter with a trembling hand.
    "He is now in Bow-street Police-office, ma'am: in the course of the day he will be in Newgate ?" and the old butler wiped away a tear.
    "Good heavens!" exclaimed Diana; "then it is really too true!"
    She immediately tore open the letter, and ran her eye over the contents, which were as follow:-
    "The villany of one of the individuals with whom you are constantly associating, and in whom it has been my misfortune to place unlimited confidence, will perhaps involve you in an embarrassment similar to the one in which I am now placed. I cannot, I do not for one moment imagine that you are in by way conversant with those vile schemes:- I can read your heart; I know that you would scorn such a confederary. Your frankness, your candour, are in your favour: your countenance, which is engraven upon my memory, and which I behold at this moment as if it were really before me, forbids all suspicions injurious to your honour. Take a timely warning, then: take warning from one who wishes you well: and dissolve the connexion ere It be too late.       "R. M."
    "When shall you see your master again ?" enquired Diana of the Butler, after the perusal of this letter.
    "To-morrow, ma'am - with the blessing of God."
    "My compliments to him - my very best remembrances," said Mrs. Arlington; "and I feel deeply grateful for this communication."
    Whittingham bowed, and rose to depart. 
    "And," added Diana, after a moment's pause, "if there be anything in which my humble services can be made available, pray do not hesitate to come to me. Indeed, I hope you will call - often - and let me know how this unfortunate business proceeds."
    "Then you don't believe that Master Richard is capable of this obliquity, madam ?" cried the butler.
    "Oh! no - impossible!" said Diana emphatically.
    "Thank 'ee, ma'am, thank 'ee," exclaimed Whittingham: "you have done my poor old heart good. God bless you, ma'am - God bless you!"
    And with these words the faithful dependent took his departure, not a little delighted to think that there was at least one person in the world who believed in the innocence of "Master Richard." In fact, the kindness of Diana's manner, and the sincerity with which she had expressed herself on that point, effectually wiped away from the mind of the butler the reminiscences of Mac Chizzle's derogatory suspicions, and Suggett's impertinence.
    After a few minutes' profound reflection, Diana returned to the drawing-room, where Sir Rupert Harborough, Mr. Chichester, and Talbot were seated.
    Her fine countenance wore an expression of melancholy seriousness; and there was a nervous movement of the under lip that denoted the existence of powerful emotions in her bosom.
    "Well, Di.," exclaimed the baronet; "you seem annoyed."
    "You will be surprised, gentlemen, when I inform you who has been here," she said, resuming m her seat upon the sofa.
    "Indeed!" cried Chichester, turning pale: "who could it be ?"
    "Not an officer, I hope ?" exclaimed the baronet. 
    "The chimley-sweeps, perhaps," suggested Mr. Talbot.
    "A person from Mr. Markham," said Diana, seriously. "By his appearance I should conceive him to be the faithful old servant of his family, of whom I have heard him speak."
    "Whittingham, I'll be bound!" ejaculated Chichester. "And what did he want ?"
    "He brought me a letter from his master," returned Diana. "You may read it, if you please."
    And she tossed it contemptuously towards Chichester.
    "Read out," cried Talbot.
    Mr. Chichester read the letter aloud, as he was requested.
    "And what makes the young spark write to you in that d—d impudent and familiar style ?" demanded the baronet, angrily.
    [-65-] 

    "You cannot but admit that his letter is couched in a most friendly manner," said the lady, somewhat bitterly.
    "Friendly be hanged!" cried the baronet. "I dare say you feel a most profound and sisterly sympathy for the young gaol-bird. After all, your profuse expenditure and extravagance helped to involve me in no end of pecuniary trouble; and I was compelled to have recourse to any means to obtain money. Somebody must suffer ;- better Markham than any one of us."
    You do well, sir, to reproach me for being the cause of your embarrassments," answered Diana, her countenance becoming almost purple with indignation. "Have I not basely lent these rooms to your purposes, and acted as an attraction to the young men whom you have inveigled here to plunder at cards? I have never forgiven myself for the weakness which prompted me thus far to enter into your schemes. But when you informed me of your plans relative to the forged notes, I protested vehemently against so atrocious a measure. Indeed, had it not been for your solemn assurance that you had abandoned the idea - at all events so far as it concerned Markham - I would have placed him upon his guard - in spite of your threats, your menaces, your remonstrances!"
    Diana had warmed as she proceeded; and by the time she reached the end of her reply to the baronet's villanous speech, she had worked herself up almost into a fury of rage and indignation. Her bosom heaved convulsively - her eyes dilated; and her lips expressed ineffable scorn.
    "Perdition!" exclaimed the baronet: "the world is coming to a pretty pass when one's own mistress undertakes to give lessons in morality."
    "A desperate necessity, sir," retorted Diana, " made me your mistress ;- but I would sooner seek an asylum at the workhouse this moment, than become a partner in villany of this stamp."
    "And, as far as I care," said the baronet, "you may go to the workhouse as soon as you choose."
    [-66-] With these words he rose and put on his hat.
    Diana was about to answer this last brutal speech; but she determined not to provoke a discussion which only exposed her to the insolence of the man who was coward enough to reproach her with a frailty which had ministered to his pleasures. She bit her lips to restrain the burst of emotions which struggled for vent; and at that moment her bearing was as haughty and her aspect as proud as the superb dignity of incensed Juno.
    "Come, Chichester," said the baronet, after a pause of a few minutes; "I shall be off. Talbot - this is no longer a place for any one of us, Madam," he added, turning with mock ceremony to Diana, "I wish you a very good afternoon. This is the last time you will ever see me in these apartments."
    "I wish it to be so," said Diana, still stifling her rage with difficulty.
    "And I need scarcely observe," exclaimed the baronet, "that after all that has passed between, us —"
    "Oh! I comprehend you, sir," interrupted the Enchantress, scornfully "you need not fear me - your secrets are safe in my possession."
    The baronet bowed, and strode out of the room, followed by Chichester and Talbot.
    The Enchantress was then alone.
    She threw herself at full length upon the sofa, and remained for a long time buried in profound thought. A tear started into her large blue eye; but she hastily wiped it sway with her snowy handkerchief. From time to time her lips were compressed with scorn; and then a prolonged sigh would escape her breast.
    Had she given a free vent to her tears, she would have experienced immediate relief; she endeavoured to stifle her passion - and it nearly suffocated her.
    But how beautiful was she during that painful and fierce struggle with her feelings! Her countenance was flushed; and her eyes, usually so mild and melting, seemed to burn like two stars.
    "No," she exclaimed, after a long silence, "I must not revenge myself that way! Up to the present moment, I have eaten his bread and have been to him as a wife; and I should be guilty of a vile deed of treachery were I to denounce him and his companions. Besides - who would believe my testimony, unsupported by facts, against the indignant denial of a man of rank, family, and title? I must stifle my resentment for the present. The hour of retribution will no doubt arrive, sooner or later;  and Harborough shall yet repent the cruel - the cowardly insults he has heaped on my head this day!" 
    She paused, and again appeared to reflect profoundly. Suddenly a gleam of satisfaction passed over her countenance, and she started up to a sitting posture upon the sofa. The ample skirts of her dress were partly raised by her attitude, and revealed an exquisitely turned leg to the middle of the swell of the calf. The delicate foot, imprisoned in the flesh-coloured stocking of finest silk, tapped upon the carpet, in an agitated manner, with the tip of the glossy leather shoe.
    That gleam of satisfaction which had suddenly appeared upon her countenance, gradually expanded into a glow of delight, brilliant and beautiful.
    "Perhaps he thinks that I shall endeavour to win him back again to my arms," she said, musing aloud; -"perhaps he imagines that his countenance and support are imperatively necessary to me? Oh! no - Sir Rupert Harborough," she exclaimed, with a smile of triumph; "you may vainly await self-humiliation from me! To-morrow - yes, so soon as to-morrow shall you see that I can command a position more splendid than the one in which you placed me!"
    Obeying the impulse of her feelings, she hastened to unlock an elegant rosewood writing-desk, edged with silver; and from a secret drawer she took several letters - or rather notes - written upon paper of different colours. Upon the various envelopes were seals impressed with armorial bearings, some of which were surrounded by coronets.
     She glanced over each in a cursory manner, which showed she was already tolerably familiar with their contents. The greater portion she tossed contemptuously into the fire ;- a few she placed one upon the other, quite in a business-like way, upon the table.
    When she had gone through the entire file, she again directed her attention to those which she had reserved; and as she perused them one after the other, she mused in the following manner:-
    "Count do Lestranges is brilliant in his offers, and immensely rich - no doubt; but he is detestably conceited, and would think more of himself than of his mistress. His appeal must be rejected;" and she threw the French nobleman's perfumed epistle into the fire.
    "This," she continued, taking up another, "is from Lord Templeton. Five thousand a-year is certainly handsome; but then he himself is so old and ugly! Away with this suitor at once." The English Peer's billet-doux followed that of the French Count.
    "Here is a beautiful specimen of calligraphy," resumed Diana, taking up a third letter; "but all the sentiments are copied, word for word, out of the love-scenes in Anne Radcliffe's romances. Never was such gross plagiarism! He merits the punishment I thus inflict upon him ;"-and her plump white hand crushed the epistle ere she threw it into the fire.
    "But what have we here? Oh! the German baron's killing address - interspersed with remarks upon the philosophy of love. Ah! my lord, love was not made for philosophers - and philosophers are Incapable of love; so we will have none of you."
    Another offering to the fire.
    "Here is the burning address of the Greek attaché with a hard name. It is prettily written ;- but who could possibly enter upon terms with an individual of the name of Thesaurochrysonichochrysides?"
    To the flames went the Greek lover's note also.
    "Ah! this seems as if it were to be the successful candidate," said Diana, carefully perusing the last remaining letter. " It is written upon a plain sheet of white paper, and without scent. But then the style - how manly! Yes - decidedly, the Earl of Warrington has gained the prize. He is rich - un-married - handsome - and still in the prime of life! There is no room for hesitation."
    The Enchantress immediately penned the following note:
    "I should have replied without delay to your lordship's letter of yesterday week, but have been suffering severely from cold and bad spirits. The former has been expelled by my physician: the latter can only be forced to decamp by the presence of your lordship.       
                "DIANE ARLINGTON."
    Having despatched this note to the Earl of Warrington, the Enchantress retired to her bed-room, to prepare her toilette for the arrival of the nobleman around whom she had thus suddenly decided upon throwing her magic spells.
    [-67-] At eight o'clock that evening, a brilliant equipage stopped at the door of the house in which Mrs. Arlington resided.
    The Earl of Warrington alighted, and was forthwith conducted into the presence of the Enchantress.
    And never was she more bewitching :- never had she appeared more transcendently lovely.
    A dress of the richest black velvet, very low in the corsage set off her voluptuous charms and displayed the pure and brilliant whiteness of the skin to the highest advantage. Her ears were adorned with pendants of diamonds; and a tiara glittering with the same precious stones, encircled her brow. There was a soft and languishing melancholy in her deep blue eyes and in the expression of her countenance, which formed an agreeable contrast to the dazzling loveliness of her person and the splendour of her attire.
    She was enchanting indeed.
    Need we say that the nobleman, who had already been introduced to her and admired her, was enraptured with the prize that thus surrendered itself to him?
    Diana became the mistress of the Earl of Warrington, and the very next day removed to a splendid suite of apartments in Albemarle Street, while his lordship's upholsterers furnished a house for her reception.

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